Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Unnatural Lifestyle

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

                        Hebrews 11.1

Living Right

Anyone with a glancing knowledge of Christianity knows that its followers—make that its true followers—hope for one thing only in this life: to live righteously before God and man. Not once, but three times, in three different epistles written to three different audiences, were early Christians given the key to living right

The righteous shall live by faith. (Romans 1.17; Galatians 3.11; Hebrews 10.38)

This concept seems basic in theory, but it’s supremely difficult to practice. It ignores social logic, disputes life experience, discounts personality, and rejects common sense. It’s entirely counterintuitive to our emotional—and in some cases, physical—wellbeing and survival. In fact, when we follow Jesus, we embrace the most unnatural lifestyle known to man.

Losers Take All

Proof that the Christian walk completely defies human nature isn’t hard to find. It’s right in front of us, in black and white. Read everything Jesus said.  Never will you find Him endorsing “natural” thinking and behavior. Look no further than The Beatitudes (Matthew 5.3-10) and you’ll discover a sterling example of how thoroughly unnatural His impulses were.

They rule out every “normal” characteristic and response we have. They oppose every emotion we channel to protect against every real or imaginary threat to our earthly success. They accept—they actually welcome—situations and outcomes we instinctively avoid. According to Jesus, the losers win it all—heaven, comfort, the earth, righteousness, mercy, God’s presence, and God’s name. And how do they gain these divine riches? By faith—remaining confident in their hopes and holding to what’s true with no visible evidence to support it. To the natural mind, this is crazy talk.

Radical Shifts

But Jesus knew what He was saying and He meant every word. Essentially, He pressed His listeners to forget everything they’d learned about earthly life and adopt the ways of perilously naïve creatures. He urged them to walk through the world like aliens who look at and experience what everyone else does yet draw entirely opposite meanings and rewards from it.

And that pretty much sums up how following Christ works and what it feels like. It lifts you out of the world—out of yourself—to see and understand things from a radically different angle. It hoists you above human instinct and reason. It confuses those around you and dramatically alters how you manage your life.  Consequently, it often leaves you alone with your doubts and problems. When you follow Jesus’s unnatural lifestyle, however, you see them through eyes of faith. You look at doubt and discover hope. Visible problems become invisible solutions. You see there’s just no better way to live.

The New Yorker, March 4, 2002

Friday, July 11, 2008

Fear is Failure

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity,
but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
        2 Timothy 1.7

What's Our Problem?
Over and over and over again, the Scripture tells us, “Don’t be afraid.” In the Old Testament, God says this almost 100 times. In the New Testament, angels inevitably start their messages with “Fear not.” Jesus’s sermons and discussions repeatedly return to these words: “Be not afraid.” The early church’s leaders committed a great deal of time and ink in their epistles to spell out why we shouldn’t fear. In his first letter, John writes, “Perfect love drives out fear.” The writer of Hebrews says, “I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Finally, with only two exceptions (Titus and Philemon), every one of Paul’s letters address fearful mindsets and why believers should overcome them.

What is our problem? How come we’re constantly battling our fears—fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of commitment, fear of punishment, fear of error, fear of controversy, fear of criticism, fear of prejudice, fear of stereotype, fear of fear, and every other imaginable fear?

Always a Reason
No matter what we attempt in this life, we’ll always find reasons to be afraid of it. But fear is completely manmade, fabricated by knowing just enough to realize our knowledge is inadequate. When we fear, we trust what little we know instead of trusting God, Who knows everything. We grab the map and the steering wheel, leaving Him in a cloud of our dust. We use what little we’ve got instead of relying on all He’s given us. Solomon famously left us this advice:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own 
understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will 
make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3.5-6)

God and Fear

Paul told Timothy, the young evangelist he mentored, our fear doesn’t come from God. It’s alien to His nature. He can’t give us a spirit of fear because He has none to give. Instead, He gives us the best He’s got: power, love, and self-discipline (or sound reasoning). With those attributes at work in our lives, there’s simply no logical excuse to be afraid of anything.

His power supersedes our limited capabilities and influence; His love changes how we view and approach our situations; His self-discipline teaches us to be patient and productive. He tells us not to fear. If that's not good enough for us, we’ve got bigger problems than whatever has us feeling so intimidated in the first place. We think we fear how or why we might fail when, in reality, it’s already happened. Fear doesn’t prevent failure. Fear is failure.

Fear in action: closing one's eyes to God's love, power, and sound thinking.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Enough is Enough

There was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12.7b-9

Thorny Problems

We all have thorns in our flesh—constant torments we can’t overcome. They’re not bad habits or attitudes or desires; those things we can fix through prayer and discipline. They’re personality issues. Thorns attack our flesh. They directly stem from our beings. They’re there just because we’re who we are.

Pause for a moment and think about the problems that are truly too big for you to solve. In all likelihood, they’re related to at least one of three things: your gender, your racial heritage, or your sexuality. When you brought these things into the world, vulnerability to certain thorns came with them. And Satan’s messengers were locked, loaded, and ever so happy to fire them at you.

An Answer We Don’t Want

In his letter to the Corinthians, why didn’t Paul identify his thorn? Was his anguish emotional or physical? Did it come from others? Or was it self-inflicted? The details are irrelevant. Something he couldn’t change about himself caused constant stress. He begged God to pull it out and stop the pain. It didn’t happen.

A lot of us are worse than Paul. After three tries, he finally listened. On the other hand, we keep begging. We make such a fuss we can’t hear what God is saying. If we manage to calm down long enough to get His answer, it’s not what we want. So what do we do? We beg some more.

A Better Ending

Be still,” God told Israel, “and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46.10) It’s His show; He’s the Writer, Producer, and Director. He created our beings for His purpose and honor knowing others—sometimes even we—will accuse us of uselessness and shame. When we beg God to remove our thorns, we’re really asking Him to change who we are. That won’t happen, because it alters His story for our lives.

His ending is far better than the one we want. It finishes with His power triumphing over our weakness. Our tormentors shrivel in defeat. In the meantime, we need to listen up. “My grace is sufficient,” He says. When we accept that, we’ll learn to accept ourselves—and our thorns. Why keep begging for more when enough is enough?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Life in the Fast Lane

You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?

                                        Galatians 5.7

Old School Theology

Debates about who qualifies to follow Christ are nothing new. In fact, discrimination against GLBT believers is fairly recent. The long list of targets preceding us includes the illiterate, scientists, racial minorities, and women. And believe it or not, one of the first controversies that divided Christians centered on circumcision.

While most early Christians agreed that Jesus brought God’s grace to all people, a small—but vigorously vocal—minority insisted it belonged exclusively to Jews. Therefore, before any Gentile could accept it, he had to be circumcised first. Where this notion came from is anybody’s guess. It certainly didn’t come from Jesus.

It troubled sincere Gentiles. And it greatly vexed Paul, who worried that their desire to please God could persuade them to obey the circumcision mandate. It was Old School theology, directly contradicting the New Order instituted by Christ. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again.” (Galatians 5.1)

Sunday Drivers

“You were moving along,” Paul said, “Who got in your way and slowed you down?” The question remains relevant. Today, we still encounter believers with all sorts of conditions for following Jesus. Their motives may be pure, but what they promote never is. Requirements attached to those directly given from Christ saddle us with unnecessary burdens. We don’t need them because He set us free. 

Jesus was the greatest communicator of all time. His words were precise, His standards were clear, and He meant for us to guide ourselves accordingly. He left us nothing to add or remove. Those who do are like Sunday drivers. They create bottlenecks. They cause accidents. They’re dangerous.

Keep Moving

In 1 Thessalonians 5.14, Paul wrote, “Warn those who are idle.” There’s just no time to get hung up behind extraneous doctrine. The road to perfection in Christ is long enough already. It demands constant drive and attention. When we permit others to cut in on us with their ideas, we risk slowing down, crashing, or running out of gas.

An old songwriter once said, “I’ve got a long way to go to be like the Lord.” Boy, was he right. If we’re truly serious about going the distance, we’ve got to keep moving.   

Which lane are you in?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

You're Awesome! Wonderful!

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

                                          Psalm 139.14

Facts and Reasons

Too often we forget what went into our making. We take our existence for granted as a random act of nature. But when we do this, we minimize a truth we must never forget. God planned it this way. We’re here by His Will, not coincidence.

How unfortunate that so many get bogged down in the Creation vs. Evolution debate. It’s entirely possible to accept evolution as documented history and embrace creation as the real story. Evolution gives us the facts. Creation gives us the reasons.  One version answers questions the other doesn’t. Genesis just as easily could have opened with Darwin’s explanation. That would tell us everything we want to know about our history as a species. Instead, it tells us everything God wants us to know about why He made us and why we’re here.

Our Story

Setting aside our history, what’s our story? As Genesis tells it, God created the universe, the world, and everything in it by His word. When our moment came, however, He did something different. Rather than speak us into existence, He personally molded us to look like Him. Instead of commanding us to live, He breathed His life into us. 

Humanity’s first memory isn’t waking up in a new world. It’s being cradled in God’s hand. We didn’t draw our first breath from the atmosphere. Our lungs filled with God’s essence—His eternal life and presence. This constituted His template for every man and woman since then. Each of us arrives held in His hand, filled with His inspiration.


Be Who You Are

You are God’s ultimate creation and finest accomplishment, distinctly made to express His presence in the world. He shaped you for His purpose, specifically creating you to be who you are and do what only you can.

You are fearfully, wonderfully made—God’s awesome achievement, His masterpiece.  Know that.  Be that.

Personal Postscript: Being Playlist

At moments when I lose touch with my sense of being, I pull off to the side, shut out everything and everyone else, dim the lights, and let these songs speak to me:

  1. All I Ever Have to Be – Amy Grant
  2. If I Were a Tree – Andrae Crouch
  3. Wonderfully Made – The Waiting
  4. Because of Whose I Am – Karen Harding
  5. Breathe – Byron Cage
  6. I Think I Can Hear You – Carole King
  7. Glorious – Martha Munizzi
  8. Abide in Me – West Angeles COGIC Mass Choir
  9. God Made Man – NewSong
  10. Breathe Into Me – Israel Houghton & New Breed
  11. Living in Me – Barry Blaze
  12. I Was Created to Worship – Straight Gate Mass Choir
  13. All I Must Do – Kathy Troccoli
  14. My Life Is In Your Hands – Kirk Franklin

Monday, July 7, 2008

Getting to Know You

Love your neighbor as yourself.

                                    Matthew 22.39

Waking Up

When he was a young boy, my father sleepwalked.  He lived in a small town where most everyone kept their doors unlocked. One night, my dad roamed out of his house and woke the next morning in a house several blocks from his.  “Boy, who are you?” his naturally distraught neighbor asked.  He told her his name.  Given the town’s size, she knew of his family and returned him.  Did he answer her question, though?  Did he really say who he was?  No, he didn’t, because there's an enormous difference between how we identify ourselves and the reality of who we are. 

Deciding to follow Jesus is a lot like waking up in a strange place.  After a long night of self-centered dreams, we find ourselves in a world where our reality is exclusively defined by how well we understand the realities of others.

Who Are You?

In Christ’s paradigm, loving others as we love ourselves begins with concretely understanding who we are.  Like my father, the first question we face when we “wake up” to new life in Christ is, “Who are you?”

This begs the incontrovertible truth of being.  Essentially, it asks, “What can you tell me about yourself that has been true from the start?” It wants facts that are immune to interpretation. At that level, then, my answer is easy.  Who am I?  I’m a gay, white male. Other things about me—my values, tendencies, fears, and aspirations—I pick up along the way. They’re personality traits. My personality changes as needed, while my being remains unchanged.

Bottom line: God creates beings; we create personalities. Our beings define who we are, while our personalities describe how we are. It’s vital to understand this distinction. So stop for a moment and fill in the blanks:

Who am I?  I’m a ___________, ____________, _____________.


Jesus commands us to love people, not personalities.  When we know and accept the basics of who we are, we can know and accept our neighbors exactly the same way. Their personalities may be loathsome, irrational, hurtful, and altogether toxic. We may despise what they’ve done with themselves as much as they hate what we’ve done.  Yet we can still love them for who they are—not person-to-person, but being-to-being.




Sunday, July 6, 2008

The House of the Lord

I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.”

                                               Psalm 122.1


It’s Sunday. Many of us are up and about, truly excited about entering into worship. Many of us are getting ready out of obligation, thinking about what’s next after we get the church-thing out of the way. Many others of us are waking up and rolling over, not the least bit concerned about going to church. We stopped that a long time ago, once we figured out that churches weren’t built for people like us. 

The sad fact is this: it only takes one or two unwelcome experiences at God’s House to decline future invitations to worship. Unlike the Psalmist David, for a lot of us, going to the House of the Lord is no cause to rejoice. The problem is never the church.  It’s always the people in it.

Missed Opportunities

Instead of focusing on what we avoid by not going to church, shouldn’t we at least be a little curious about what we miss by not being there? Regular, communal worship has been an essential aspect of Christian life since the beginning, passed down to us from Jesus’s first followers.  It’s not a requirement for following Him. But even so, it’s an opportunity we should seize as people of faith.

We know church pews groan with people who have no desire or intention to actually live by His teachings.  Allowing their hypocrisy or hostility to drive us away gives them undue influence in our lives.  Think of this: rather than escape getting what we don’t want or need from them, could it be that by going to church we can give them something they want or need?

Offering and Receiving

Church encourages us in our walk with Christ.  But we don’t go to church seeking encouragement.  We go to encourage others--to give, not get.  And if we do that, we’ll receive more than we need or expect.  According to Jesus, here’s what happens when we choose to offer instead of receive:

Give and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  (Luke 6.38)

Church people may never repay the kindness, tolerance, and encouragement we give them.  But we have Jesus’s word that we’ll receive more than enough anyway.  Where or whom it comes from isn’t important; the minute we offer it to others, it’s on its way to us.  Going to church, then, provides us a venue to encourage others and opens new avenues for others to encourage us.  No wonder David rejoiced when his friends invited him to church!

Churches like this don’t want us, or our help, but they most definitely need it.  If we can’t go to them, we can take them to God.  When you talk to Him, don’t forget to mention churches like Putnamville.  

Web Sighting: Find a Church

Thank God that while churches like Putnamville persist in excluding GLBT believers, His Spirit is calling literally thousands of others to welcome us. Some of them are founded and led by openly gay ministers. But the majority are established, predominately straight congregations who have obeyed His call. They cover a wide spectrum of denominations, traditions, and styles of worship. 

If you haven’t found a welcoming church, you’re closer to one than you think. It may vary in numerous ways from your previous church experience and require some getting used to. (Lamentably, very few Fundamentalist churches have yet to respond to God’s call for inclusion.) Still, these differences will prove minor in comparison to the enormous strength you’ll gain from a steady diet of sound teaching, worship, and Christian acceptance.

The fine people at have amassed an amazing directory of GLBT-friendly congregations around the world. Give it a look and visit a church near you soon!  (And while you're there, check out the rest of the site.  It's got some nice surprises.)